Earlier this year, I was challenged by my friend to switch from rock climbing to tree climbing for a while. I readily acquiesced to his request, thinking that rock climbing is the same as tree climbing. Yet, to my surprise, there are nuances and differences between these two climbing types, and if you are a beginner in tree climbing, it would be useful to know these differences.
When we tried tree climbing, I discovered that tree climbing is not rock climbing. Instead, it is more like rope climbing! Yet, I am fortunate that I already know the fundamentals of climbing that made it easy for me to transition from rock climbing to tree climbing. Moreover, it’s a good thing that I already feel at ease with heights, having been used to heights from my rock climbing adventures.
Tree Climbing and Rock Climbing Comparison
Whether you are transitioning from rock climbing to tree climbing or vice versa, it will be useful to know what each type of climbing entails so that you can have a comparative analysis of these two climbing types, and you can smoothly transition from one type to another:
Tree climbing is also a sport, just like rock climbing. However, tree climbing can also be a functional or recreation activity that entails ascending a tree and moving around the tree crown. Just like in any climbing type, you will need the necessary gear and equipment to make your ascent and descent safely.
If you tree climb because it is your work, you will need the essential equipment like a helmet, harness, rope when you ascend a tree. If you are a hunter who climbs a tree to have a bird’s-eye view of the hunting area, you will also need a tree climbing stand. You can also bring with you a hammock if you intend to climb tree canopies to enjoy a nap or spend a night, or to picnic on the treetop.
Regarding the climbing techniques you would employ in tree climbing, you may find the same methods as those of rock climbing, for the tree climbing techniques make use of a mixture of rock-climbing techniques. The gears are almost the same, save for some variations and specifications. For example, tree climbers prefer semi-static ropes while rock climbers make use of dynamic ropes.
As the term implies, rock climbing entails a sport wherein the climbers move up, down, or across a route made of artificial or natural rock formations. The goal of climbing is to reach the summit of the rock formation without falling.
It is physically challenging and demanding as a sport, for it tests the endurance, strength, agility, flexibility, and mental toughness of the climbers. This type of climbing requires know-how of climbing techniques and the utilization of rock-climbing equipment.
Rock climbers challenge themselves to scale various types of rock formations, and for this reason, rock climbing is divided into sub-disciplines and multiple styles. There are two types of rock climbing: free climbing and aid climbing. Free climbing uses equipment more for protection than for support, while aid climbing uses equipment and gear more for upward progress.
Moreover, climbers may engage in a route of which they don’t have any previous knowledge (on-sight), with prior information about the route (flashing), or a tried route (redpointing).
The Differences Between Rock Climbing and Tree Climbing
You may still maintain that rock climbing and tree climbing are the same simply because they are both a climbing activity. Yet, upon closer scrutiny, you will discover that there are subtle differences between the two. Here are some of these subtle differences:
1) Distance of Ascents
Rock climbers take longer ascents than tree climbers. Even if tree climbers would boast about climbing a Sequoia tree, such a feat is just a piece of cake compared to the distance traversed by rock climbers. Thus, you will notice that rock climbers’ main concern is how to conserve their energy. They go for more energy-efficient systems as well.
Most rock climbers or cavers use the Mitchell Standard System, Frog System, Rope Walker, and Texas Systems. They also make use of Ascending Multi-System for easy switching among many vertical systems. However, the best system to use when caving depends on the type of ascent you would tackle. Remember that what may be good for one climbing route might not be right for another climbing route. Hence, most rock climbers make use of Ascending Multi-System for greater versatility and flexibility.
2) Long Descents
Rock climbers and cavers also engage in rappelling when tackling more extended drops. These drops are even longer than what the tree climbers do when they descend a tree. Hence, rock climbers make use of variable friction devices for multiple options when rappelling. They make use of racks, for example, because they dissipate heat well.
Rappelling down a tree is less challenging than what the rock climbers deal with. Moreover, tree climbers don’t need to deal with so much friction when rappelling down the tree as compared to rock climbers rappelling down the mountain cliff. As a rock climber, I usually make use of different devices, depending on my preference.
Moreover, rock climbers need to learn how to stop during rappelling safely. Many rock climbers use the autoblock knot, an easy-to-tie hitch or friction knot that you tie around your climbing rope using a short cord. It is utilized as a back-up safety knot when rappelling. It locks when it is under load, and it releases while it is still under load. It also keeps you in control.
The ropes preferred by tree climbers vary from those of the rock climbers. For example, rock climbers use dynamic ropes that absorb the energy and momentum of the climber’s fall. They got fibers that elongate well to ensure that they mitigate the fall of the climbers.
Tree climbers, on the other hand, use low elongation ropes. They also use semi-static ropes that do not stretch that much, and you can use them for anchoring. They also absorb energy better. Furthermore, most expert tree climbers prefer the 16 strands rope, allowing for more flexibility and softness, and don’t want the ones with twist construction.
Rock climbers make use of harness when hanging in for several seconds while tackling a perilous route. They also rely on this harness to catch them when they fall. Of course, rock climbers don’t develop that harness hang syndrome because most of them want to finish the route as quickly as possible.
Moreover, prolonged hanging on your harness when rock climbing may be dangerous to your body because rock climbers’ narrow harness may reduce blood circulation.
On the other hand, tree climbers enjoy lingering on their saddles, and for this reason, they use saddles that provide excellent comfort and safety. Hence, it is not advisable to use a rock-climbing saddle for tree climbing because rock climbing saddles come with tight and narrow leg straps, which are not perfect for prolonged hanging on midair.
It will be useful to note that different climbing tasks necessitate different carabiners. Of course, carabiners come in various shapes, gate types, sizes, weights, and strengths. When rappelling, for example, you can use pear-shaped carabiners. You will also find oval-shaped carabiners as well as D-shaped carabiners. They are also rated for their strength.
Carabiners for rigging don’t need to be double-locking, though double-locking might be a safe option. Tree climbers engaged in re-rigging a lot, which is more than those of the rock climbers. Thus, many tree climbers prefer the autolocking carabiners.
5) Safety Level
Gravity is unforgiving, and since both types of climbing test the power of gravity, it is but necessary for both types of climbing to demand a high level of safety from climbers. Of course, rock climbing, as a sport, is relatively a safe activity if you are adequately trained on the correct practices and techniques.
If you are an average climber, you will suffer an injury once every 1,000 hours of rock climbing. This ratio, of course, is excellent as compared to those of other sports. As long as you use the right gear and follow the proper techniques and guidelines when rock climbing, you will always be on the safe side.
As with tree climbing, you should also be cognizant of the right techniques and have the necessary equipment when engaging in it. As long as you follow the simple steps when climbing a tree and you have adequate training and equipment, you are safe to engage in tree climbing.
You will definitely need some fundamental skills when working with ropes. Your life will indeed hinge on your mastery of the rope, including the knots, hitches, bends, bight, standing end, and working end. If you have both experienced rock and tree climbing, you will notice that tie-ins technology and mechanics differ a bit between rock climbing and tree climbing.
Yet, both types of climbing require changing tie-ins, and if you are the lead climber, you will change tie-ins as often as a tree climber.
Rock climbing as a sport will become a medal sport in the 2020 Summer Olympics, though its debut was postponed because of COVID-19. So, if you intend to engage in rock climbing as a sport, now is the best time to do so. Tree climbing, on the other hand, is a functional or recreational activity. This may imply that many tree climbers engage in tree climbing as their work, while many others do it as a recreational activity.
Some tree climbers, for example, are hunters, some are arborists who trim or cut trees. At present, you can learn tree climbing from training institutions for tree climbers.
Like in rock climbing, tree climbers also engage in lead climbing to form protection points for subsequent climbers. Both types of climbing entail using almost similar equipment, though rock climbing may be more demanding for rock climbers may tackle longer and more challenging terrains and routes.